Testing and Accountability: Why a Single Day is Not Enough

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On average, there are 180 days in a school year. This is 180 opportunities for good teachers to provide their students with a quality education. In terms of school accountability, 179 of these 180 days have little meaning in the school accountability formula. Testing and accountability has become king. Almost everything in schools is now geared towards boosting standardized test performance because of the ramifications for school accountability.

Teachers have been forced to teach to the test. Those teachers whose students consistently perform below the mark will eventually lose their job. Standardized testing has arguably taken creativity from the teacher, decreased the length of the school year due to test prep, and discouraged teachers from taking advantage of teachable moments. There is so much at stake that administrators, teachers, and students feel as if they are held hostage.

Students and parents are also beginning to feel the pressures of standardized testing. Many states have begun to creatively tie standardized test performance to grade promotion, earning a driver’s license, and even graduating high school with a diploma. Parents have been forced to take notice, and many have become more involved in their child’s education than they likely would have otherwise. This in itself is one of the few benefits of how standardized testing has impacted our culture, but it is not worth all of the other downfalls that come with standardized testing.

Stress has become more prevalent in America’s schools because of high stakes testing. It has a significant impact on administrators, teachers, and students. Schools are seeing an upward trend in teacher burnout, bouts of depression, and student suicides. While there are other contributing factors, no one can deny that standardized testing has a significant overall impact on the stress level found in schools.

The stresses associated with standardized testing are real. Every year good teachers choose to leave the profession because they do not want to deal with these pressures any more. This week I heard the story about a third grader that was so stressed out that she vomited all over her state test. At my school, I recently found a note written by a student discussing the stresses of testing with another student. The student went into detail about how depressed they were, how stupid they felt, and shared suicidal thoughts attributed to the pressures they were feeling to perform well on the upcoming state tests.

Some students are simply not good test takers. They struggle with the pressures of any exam. Imagine how these students are impacted when they understand that they will be required to repeat the third grade if they do not do well on this test. The stress of it all can have a negative impact on student performance.

Standardized testing is nothing new. We all took them as a kid, but we did not feel the pressure that students today do. Standardized testing has become an introduced species that was brought into schools for legitimate reasons, but has morphed into an out of control phenomena that is destroying everything that is good about our schools.

There are so many things that can negatively impact student performance on a single day that are beyond a student’s control. Here are just a few examples of distractions that could negatively impact student performance:

  • A fight with a sibling or parent the morning of the test.
  • Battling a cold, stomach ailment, or allergy symptoms.
  • Test anxiety, nervousness, and stress.
  • Failure to get enough sleep the night before.
  • Parents are going through a divorce or fighting.
  • A recent breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend.
  • The recent death of a family member or close friend.
  • Distracted by upcoming events such as the birth of a sibling, a birthday party, or an athletic event.
  • Lack of proper nourishment.
  • The student sitting next to you has a nervous tick.

Most teachers do not have a problem with standardized testing itself. They have a problem with how the results are used. There are many benefits to standardized testing. They can provide teachers with a lot of valuable data that can guide their instruction. In reality, standardized testing would be more beneficial if students were given these exams as a pre-test and post-test. This would be a better overall indicator of the impact a teacher has on a group of students than our current testing given on a single day. A pretest would provide a comparison point allowing true growth to be accurately measured. This would better reflect just how effective a teacher has been as well as the progress a student has made from the beginning of the year to the end.


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